And just like that – its July?

I remember my own grandparents commenting on how time seems to just fly by as you get older.  Well, guess I’m finally there – loving life, however seemingly fleeting it is.  Had a big spring, with grandchildren’s graduations and birthdays to attend/support and oh so many other events/activities.  There have been a few perturbations along the way as we travel through 2017 – but Heidi and I simply meet them head on if its something we can effect.  If we can’t do anything about it – we simply pay in no attention and focus on what we *can* do.

Life is good!

March, 2017 – ALREADY?

Had to back off the old blog for a bit.  Had cataract surgery and a new lens implant done in the first part of November, then a repeat done on the other eye in the first week of February.  What an incredible difference it has made.  Feel like I have quite a bit of my world back! 😀

Keep telling Heidi “I can see forever again” and she understands.  Have been far-sighted all my life and, with the cataracts, my world was slowly “shrinking”.  Elected to have the surgery when I could no longer drive at night, even to attend a Ham Club meeting 1 mile from our home.

As an added benefit, the new lens implants both have built in blue light and UV filtering.  I am not “light sensitive” in the slightest, which was the biggest complaint from others who had this surgery long ago.

Today, it is an “out-patient” surgery – and the actual time in surgery is only about 15 minutes, with only about half an hour (for me) in their recovery room before being released.  All the rest of the recovery is done at home.  I *did* have to limit my activities, especially over the first two weeks after each eye – so am now focusing on trying to exercise and work off some of the weight gained while just setting around.

Just prior to the 2nd eye surgery, Heidi and I purchased a new ICOM IC-7300 Ham radio.  Will have much, much more to say about it as time goes on, for now I’ll just say IT’S INCREDIBLE! 😉

Life is good!

Ham Radio – Ham Desk Riser Project

This is one we started a few weeks ago. Our “Ham Shack” is in the smallest bedroom of our 4br home, and it is literally in a mess. Last month, I started simply trying to pull everything out that wasn’t part of the hobby, or there for creature comfort. When that was done, decided we either needed a new desk, or at minimum a desk riser to provide a place for power supplies, radios, tuners, etc.

I looked around for a couple weeks and finally decided to simply build our own, (hey, I’m CHEAP), which led me to search the Internet to see what other folks had created.  Finally ran across this one:  Ham Shack Desk Riser  While the design/dimensions were not suited to our needs, it was certainly a source of inspiration.

Time to get busy!  After playing with various designs, I homed in on creating one about 4′ wide, with two “shelves” and a top, each with supports, (risers), to prevent sagging.  That would permit me to use the largest Melamine shelving available from Home Depot, and I could get them to do the required cuts.

Good old Home Depot!

Good old Home Depot!

Heidi and I went to our local Home Depot where I bought three “Melamine White Shelf Board (Common: 3/4 in. x 15-3/4 in. x 8 ft.; Actual: 0.75 in. x 15.75 in. x 97 in.). The young fellow at their saw service then made a total of 17 cuts for me without complaint. One hour after our arrival, I left with what is essentially a “Kit” for nothing more than the cost of the material.

Melamine is durable and not all that expensive, but it is also heavy, relatively hard to work with, (and *very* hard on saw blades).

4" riser glued with Gorilla Glue to the inside of the right side board.

4″ riser glued with Gorilla Glue to the inside of the right side board.

Several hours have passed already, so this will be all for today. You get the idea of the steps followed from this photo.Several hours have passed already, so this will be all for today. You get the idea of the steps followed from the photo above.

I have deliberately “over-designed” this Ham Desk Riser for strength.  Power supplies and HF Radios don’t weigh as much as they once did, but would really like this unit to last.

Setting up to start fitting, drilling, counter-sinking, etc.

Setting up to start fitting, drilling, counter-sinking, etc.

Pre-assembly preparation.

Pre-assembly preparation.

Pre-assembly preparation.

Each joining spot will have 3 screws in it, so pre-drilled holes and all will be counter-sunk, then a little white plastic cap covering the screw. This kind of thing took up most of the afternoon, early evening.

Coming together rapidly but ran out of daylight.

Coming together rapidly but ran out of daylight.

This is where we left off the first night as it was getting dark. The unit is laying on its back, (on the unattached piece that will be the top), as we attached the upper and middle set of risers. Heidi’s help was MUCH appreciated for that part!

Assembly completed with our neighbor's help!

Assembly completed with our neighbor’s help!

Heidi was out and about with her 91 year old Mom, so called our friend and good neighbor, “Rick”, over to help hold stuff square while I drove in the final screws.  He did so as I attached the two 4″ risers under the bottom shelf, then both of us carefully slid the shelf into the appropriate “slot”.  Only 18 more screws while he diligently kept everything lined up and Eureka!

Now all that is left to do before setting it on the Ham Desk is covering all of the exposed screws with little plastic caps. (Piece of cake!)  It is far from perfect, but completely function and a bit more than “sturdy”.

Ham Radio – Our portable HF Dipole

First and foremost, I absolutely get a kick out of playing with Amateur Radio Antennas of just about any kind, configuration, etc. It is part of the hobby that just appeals to me. Have spent many hours on-line pursuing new thoughts, ideas, etc. Learned early on to avoid paying too much attention to Commercial antenna “claims”, marketeer speak, etc. and started looking at what is working for other HAMs, or has worked for them in the past.

One of the projects that appealed to me was reading of the “BuddiStick” antennas and researching other designs that later grew out of that original project – that is, until the day I got a gander at the rig WA6FFT was using up on Mount Laguna. A very experienced and avid portable operation/CW/QRP enthusiast, Phil was kind enough to lower it for me and go over the few number of components and explain how it was simply “Handy”. I was sold!

Phil's "Buddystick" work-alike horizontal HF dipole.

Phil’s “Buddistick” work-alike horizontal HF dipole.

The photo above was sent by Phil at my request, (I’ve whited out his license plate), inquiring about his description of it on our local 2m repeater.  Later, when I got to “see” it in operation, there was no doubt that would be a very handy rig for Heidi and I to have for portable operation.  Something you could literally run up from just about anywhere, and be “on the air” in just a few minutes.  We have other “wire antennas” we will use, (Shorty 40 Linear Loaded dipole, Sotabeams linked dipole, Sotabeams end-fed vertical), and yes any “loaded” antenna is a compromised antenna, but I could picture us driving through the mountains, spotting a likely turnout, and being on the air right after pulling in.  Cool!  It was time for me to put on my old “thinking cap” and decide how I was going to adapt it to our own particular setup.

Phil uses an old military portable mast he acquired years ago, (and I’m keeping my eyes/ears open for one), but I figured it was probably adaptable to the masts we already had for portable operations, and that turned out to be true – (though not quite as handy as Phil’s rig).  One of the most attractive things to me about this setup over our wire antennas is the lack of “footprint”.  You could use this setup in a crowed parking lot, campsite, or wherever in a relatively unobtrusive fashion for those around you.

The first step involved a run to our local Ham Radio Outlet for the little MFJ-347 mini-dipole antenna mount, however, researching their web site, I found purchasing the MFJ-2240 package would provide both the mount and a set of 7Mhz “Hamtennas” at a reduced price over purchasing the components individually.  Then I could add pairs of Hamtennas for each band as time went on.  (At the time I am typing this, we now have the 20, 40 and 80 meter bands covered, and intend to keep adding the relatively inexpensive pairs for whatever bands we want to work).

Noting the bolts & nuts provided on the antenna mount are metric, it was off to our local Home Depot where, (with help from the manager), I was able to locate a mess of stainless steel wing nuts the right size to replace the nuts, (I bought spares – too many things get “lost” in the field).  That step makes the initial setup and tear down far easier.  While there, I picked up a little “ratchet wrench” the correct size for the bolts, to keep a dedicated tool right with the rest of the components all the time.

MFJ-347 mini-dipole-mount

MFJ-347 mini-dipole mount

Each set of Hamtennas required manual tuning – the stainless steel “whips” that stick out of the loaded section of each antenna are intentionally quite long – and running the extra metal inside the loading coils has a negative impact on their functionality, so you literally have to cut them off – then, when you have the antenna set with little allen screws, not more than an inch or so extends into the loading coils.  This is a time consuming activity, requiring a good antenna tuner, but it should only have to occur once.  Because I am an Amateur Extra, and have privileges extending lower into each band than Heidi’s current General license, each set was tuned for the lowest Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) to be at the low end of the General “voice” frequencies.  With that extra effort, I was able to achieve a setup suitable for both of us.

It really is quite a process – but well worth the effort:

Back-and-forth tuning process 1

 

Back-and-forth tuning process 2

Back-and-forth tuning process 2

 

Back-and-forth tuning process 3

Back-and-forth tuning process 3

 

Back-and-forth tuning process 4

Back-and-forth tuning process 4

Up to this point in the photos, I had been using our modified Harbor Freight push-up flagpole – but also wanted to be able to use our MFJ-1910 “33 Foot Twist Lock Telescoping Fiberglass Pole” with the horizontal dipole setup, however, it being fiberglass, I needed a way to protect it from the “clamp” on the mini-dipole mount.  Finally realized I could simply use PVC pipe, slot it, then let the clamp squeeze it onto the mast.  Worked like a charm:

Slotted PVC sleeves - later I widened the gap on each one to about 1/8th in.

Slotted PVC sleeves – later I widened the gap on each one to about 1/8th in.

Up to this point, I had been attempting to use a “current balun” mounted just below the antenna, without success.  Phil had told me the HAM he originally copied had mentioned the need to use a MFJ-915 “line isolator” in-line with the feedline, up close to the antenna.  Being the honest soul he is, Phil said words to the effect “I don’t really understand why, but I put it on there and darned if it doesn’t seem to work”. 😀

Remembering that conversation, I had to call Phil to remind me of the part number, HRO had them in stock – put it in-line at the antenna end of the feedline and “darned if it didn’t work” for me too! 😀


Being the inquisitive soul that I am, (Virgo ya know), I did some further research.  Turns out the MFJ-915 is really an “Unun” – OK – more research:

BALUN v/s UNUN

A balun matches a balanced load to an unbalanced line, but it can also do other useful things. A current balun can present a high impedance to common-mode signals, which will help reject noise. Common-mode signals are the same on both conductors, so are not “balanced” or differential.

An unun is an impedance transformer, usually 4:1 or 9:1, which matches an unbalanced antenna to a feedline. A 9:1 transformer is often used for an end-fed half wave antenna.

So I guess what I was actually facing was that I had created a compromised “unbalanced antenna” that needed to be matched to my feedline – that’s my cactus and I’m sticking to it! 😉

Reference: (in PDF) A Ham’s Guide to RFI, Ferrites, Baluns, and Audio Interfacing – Revision 5a 5 June 2010 – by Jim Brown K9YC

Cast Iron – Breaking in a new Dutch Oven

Looking at our little “collection” of cast iron ware, the one thing I was missing was one of the Lodge Pre-seasoned 6 Qt. Dutch Ovens. Ordered from Amazon.com at a reasonable price, it arrived yesterday.

Having a bit of a problem with one of my feet, Heidi came out to help me and act as my “runner” in and out of the house, so together we went to work on adding to the seasoning of the new D.O.

2016-09-14-13-32-37

New Lodge 6 Qt Dutch Oven. Cleaned, greased, and baking in on the grill at medium-high temperature

 

When I removed the lid, wiped it down and set it aside to cool, Heidi remarked it looked like a dish antenna of some kind.

When I removed the lid, wiped it down and set it aside to cool, Heidi remarked it looked like a dish antenna of some kind.

 

I was actually using part of our "Campmaid" cooking gear - great way to handle a hot lid.

I was actually using part of our “Campmaid” cooking gear – great way to handle a hot lid.

 

The handle comes off with a button-press for storage inside the D.O.

The handle comes off with a button-press for storage inside the D.O.

 

Same as a new cast iron frying pan, even though it is pre-seasoned, I like to fry up a pound of bacon in it right away. (Of course, we enjoyed BLTs later on as part of the process).

Same as a new cast iron frying pan, even though it is pre-seasoned, I like to fry up a pound of bacon in it right away. (Of course, we enjoyed BLTs later on as part of the process).

I’ve done this with each new piece of pre-seasoned iron ware we have picked up over the years, and always been pleased with the result, (especially the Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato sandwiches). 😀

Planning on giving this new D.O. quite a workout in the coming months, and if I do anything new will put it up on the blog.  Right now am considering trying my hand at a “Tater-tot, Sausage, Egg & Cheese” breakfast casserole I saw on Facebook the other day – of course, I want to try it outdoors!

Ham Radio – Our portable QRP HF setup

QRP can mean a few different things in Amateur Radio – Sent to another party it can mean reduce power or should I reduce power, but QRP operation, or a QRP radio normally means operating or operates at low power. (Usually 5 watts or less).  Many times on the air you will hear someones call sign followed by “/QRP” or simply “QRP”, meaning “I am operating this station at low power”.

Contacting another station at 5 watts or less can be a bit more challenging than operating at higher power, say 100 to 1500 watts of transmitted power, but it can have some very surprising results – and I personally find everything about intentional QRP operation to be a fascinating part of the hobby.

Over this past year, we have slowly set up a portable HF “QRP” capability, and spent no small part of yesterday afternoon/evening testing it here at the old Pondee – I took photos of the setup and will share a few of them.

First a few shots of our QRP backpack designed for the FT-817 radio that I purchased as part of a pre-production sale from China on eBay.  Payed significantly less for the pre-order, but they are currently around $80 from the same seller. Note: comments are underneath each photo:

QRP backpack - rear view

QRP backpack – rear view

QRP backpack - front view

QRP backpack – front view

QRP backpack - layout opened up - note inside compartments left & right of the radio and auto-tuner

QRP backpack – layout opened up – note inside compartments left & right of the radio and auto-tuner

Soft battery pack to protect external 12v battery is place at bottom of pack

Soft battery pack to protect external 12v battery is place at bottom of pack

We are currently using 3 pound 12v SLA batteries, each equipped with a homebrew Anderson Powerpole adapter

We are currently using 3 pound 12v SLA batteries, each equipped with a homebrew Anderson Powerpole adapter

A view of the left internal compartment, currently holding the microphone, rubber ducky antenna for 2m operation, and a "Nifty Guide" for the radio

A view of the left internal compartment, currently holding the microphone, rubber ducky antenna for 2m operation, and a “Nifty Guide” for the radio

Right inside compartment containing small log book, wire radio stand, and miscellaneous adapters/accouterments

Right inside compartment containing small log book, wire radio stand, and miscellaneous adapters/accouterments

Here, I have removed most of the items from the backpack for our test session, out in the field it would remain in the backpack and be opened out on a 1.5 lb folding table not shown

Here, I have removed most of the items from the backpack for our test session, out in the field it would remain in the backpack and be opened out on a 1.5 lb folding table not shown

Fully packed as shown, the entire backpack weighs quite a bit less than 20 lbs.

Not mentioned above, but shown on the card table for our testing, I added another 3 lb battery (spare), and in the top/left a 35ah battery we will keep in our vehicle.  Also in the middle/right, there is a West Mountain “ClrSpkr” which contains some audio frequency digital signal processing that is *very* effective in reducing noise.  It worked so well, I am wondering if I can sneak it into the XYL’s pack without her noticing? 😀

Our testing session went very well indeed, of course I have a bit more trimming/tuning to do on a pair of MFJ 20 meter “Hamtennas” set up as a horizontal dipole. The 40 meter set are good to go, and I look forward to obtaining a 75 meter set soon to add to the kit in our F-250 pickup.

Bottom line, we are having fun with the Amateur Radio hobby, and looking forward to taking this rig up in the mountains when the weather cools down a bit in Southern California.  Life is good!

 

Amateur Radio – Public Emergency Service

Our History:

Believe I’ve mentioned it before, but it was the “Cedar Fire – October, 2003” in San Diego County that definitely drove home the need to expand our ability to gather emergency information.  The fire stopped 1 mile from our home, but burned heck out of a lot of the community of Crest – I was driving to pick up Mexican takeout and just happened to spot the fire “tornado” at the top of the mountain – had heard nothing on television nor broadcast radio about it being that close.  (All of the broadcast media seemed to be focused on areas like Rancho Bernardo, etc., that day).  Came home, we packed up and got ready to “get out of Dodge” if necessary.

Later on, speaking of my disgust with personal lack of situation awareness with a good friend over in La Mesa, CA, he recommended I consider finally getting my Amateur Radio License – assuring me I would have little difficulty considering my communications/electronics background from the Navy.  In 2004 I aced the Technician’s exam with little preparation.

In August of 2015, Heidi mentioned several times that I should “get back into Ham Radio”…

Present:

Here it is, one year later, I am now a licensed Amateur Extra, and Heidi is an Amateur General…  We are slowly rebuilding our home “Ham Shack”, which will have HF, VHF, UHF capability, covering virtually all modes of operation.  It will have sufficient battery backup power to remain on-line for a significant amount of time – and eventually those batteries will have their own, dedicated, Solar Panels to keep them topped off and recharging when the sun is out.

If we absolutely have to, we will be prepared to go portable – still covering HF/VHF/UHF with battery backup.  (HF at present, would require us to park somewhere and set up).  Eventually, I plan to add digital mode capability to our portable ops setup.

Anyhoo, we continue to work, (slowly), on our Ham Shack and its capabilities.  Yesterday, I made the decision to join the San Diego Amateur Radio Emergency Service Group (SDGARES), and was gratified to be immediately accepted.  Now, we have even more to study/learn to determine exactly where we fit in, and how we can contribute.  There is a huge need, throughout the various Emergency Communications (EMCOMM) organizations supported by Amateur Radio, for folks in good physical condition that can go out and provide such service – at this age and state of life, that part will probably be prohibitive for us, but we will do what we can to help.  We *will* find a niche where we can be of service. 😉

Much, much more to follow…

The Amateur’s Code

I am re-posting this here as much of a reminder to myself as anyone else. Folks aren’t always what you want them to be, but this is something to strive for. IMHO

The Amateur’s Code is the creed by which all ham radio operators should aspire to live by. Written in 1928 by Paul M. Segal, then general counsel for the ARRL. You can still find the code published to this day in many ARRL books and publications.

The Amateur’s Code

by Paul M. Segal, W9EEA (1928)

The Radio Amateur is:

CONSIDERATE….. never knowingly operating in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.

LOYAL….. offering loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs and the American Radio Relay League, through which Amateur Radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.

PROGRESSIVE….. with knowledge abreast of science, a well built and efficient station, and operation beyond reproach.

FRIENDLY….. with slow and patient operation when requested, friendly advice and counsel to the beginner, kindly assistance, co-operation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit.

BALANCED….. Radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.

PATRIOTIC….. with station and skill always ready for service to country and community.


The best advice I ever received in the Navy was “Be Fair, Be Firm, Be Friendly”.  I still try to live up to that, and it is well met by the above Code – it isn’t always easy.

dave

Our “Ham Shack” – starting over…

Originally, our Son claimed the back bedroom when we moved into this house, but he was near grown and it wasn’t too long before he moved out on his own, found work, married, and started a family. Eventually, I converted that room into a Home Office, and it stayed that way for many years – finally converted into a kind of “guest room”. Eventually, it simply became a kind of storage room, so I moved the old oak credenza and 4 drawer file cabinet back in. Last year, it became our “Ham Shack” in name only. Oh, there are radios crammed in there on the desk, but that was just cramming more “stuff” in on top of what was already there.

Now, it is finally time to set things up as a more proper “Ham Shack”, but I’m afraid that means pulling *everything* out first – then putting those things related to Radio operation first. I will be re-visiting the Shack’s RF ground early on as “Step #1” after everything is out of there.

This weekend, I plan to start building a “Ham Shack Desk Riser”, similar to one found on-line.  My design, while similar, will be made from Melamine White Shelf Board from our local Home Depot – and the layout will include risers inside the end pieces to provide more durability/strength, including plenty of additional risers to keep individual compartments relatively short, (to prevent sagging).  I have previously used Melamine to construct a workbench surface and “attic” in our shed and was very impressed by its durability.  In that project, I discovered that particular material is a bear to cut at home, so will go into Home Depot armed with an outline of each cut I want made on *their* setup.  Should come home with what equates to a “kit” that needs gluing, drilling, screwing, and edge finishing. 😉

Will try to update this entry as time passes.

Ham on Linux – be reluctant to upgrade

Freedom from Winders isn’t exactly “free” on Linux. Freedom *always* comes with a price. This is particularly true when it comes to doing a major software upgrade – whether you are running Winders, Linux, Unix, MAC OS, etc.  There will always be some “stuff” that needs to be overcome. (At least Linux doesn’t call home to the mother ship). 😉

Previously, a few of us were talking about waiting to try an “upgrade” from Linux Mint 17.3 to the new 18.0 version. I very much agree with avoiding jumping on the “bleeding edge” just because its there.  Linux Mint 18 is a major upgrade and a long term support (LTS) version, one that will be supported for years to come (2021).  In the past, each time I have gone to a new LTS, I’ve had problems with those programs I chose to install “in addition to” their normal support. (I was on Ubuntu for years and ran into this more than once). It pays to keep track of those “special” items as you add them, including any “PPAs” and stuff like the 64 bit version of Chrome from Google, CQRLOG, CHIRP, Oracle Virtual Box, etc.  Chances are you may need to do a reinstall of them.

This is particularly true if you are running CQRLOG. If you are building a fresh install, everything goes perfectly well at present, however, if you attempt to upgrade or reuse your old configuration (~/config/cqrlog), you will run into tons of errors. This has already been reported on the Program Author’s CQRLOG forums as several have attempted to jump the gun. In the end, it may be necessary for us to do a fresh install of CQRLOG anyway, then restore our data from backups. (You *are* backing up your data right? Right?) 😉

In the mean time, my old 17.3 continues to run CQRLOG and CAT our IC-718 quite satisfactorily, and there is simply no reason for me to mess with the our Shack computer – it is doing everything I/we need it to do. Any testing I’m doing with the new stuff is on a separate virtual machine.

PCWorld put out an article on this stuff yesterday – 11 July 2016 – here is the pertinent part – although they say “Soon”, that doesn’t mean the extra items you have installed outside the “normal” system upgrades will work, (i.e. any PPA’s, etc.):


The Linux Mint project released the final version of Linux Mint 18 “Sarah” on June 30. The project is now working on an upgrade path for Linux Mint 17.3 users.
Linux Mint 17.3 users can upgrade soon

As usual, two editions of Linux Mint are available: one with the more modern Cinnamon desktop and one with the more traditional MATE desktop.

This release is a big one, being the first major new version of Linux Mint in more than two years, and a release that bumps the underlying code from Ubuntu 14.04 to Ubuntu 16.04. That means lots of polish and new features for Linux Mint users.

At the moment, you can only get Linux Mint 18 by installing it from scratch. The Linux Mint project is working on an easy upgrade path from Linux Mint 17.3, the previous release and final version of the Linux Mint 17 series. Linux Mint 17.3 users should get a notification in Linux Mint’s Update Manager when it’s ready.

Also in July, the Linux Mint project will be working on versions of Linux Mint 18 with theKDE Plasma and Xfce desktops. If you prefer one of those desktops, stay tuned to Linux Mint’s website for more details.


UPDATE:  Well, its July 15, 2016 – and I see Linux Mint now has an upgrade path from 17.3 to 18.0 – via using the command line, the apt tool, and installing an upgrade tool named “mintupgrade” they have prepared.  Lots of command line work, and if you haven’t used “terminal” and the “apt” command – you might want to reconsider doing this.  I have not run this in our Ham Shack – (did you know Linux Mint 17.3 will be supported until 2019?) – instead, I will eventually consider doing a fresh install and simply rebuilding that system, restoring data from backups.  If you must, here is a link to their article:

How to upgrade to Linux Mint 18

Did I mention you should reconsider? 😉